Friday Free-for-All #75: New thing, tests, easy come, three jobs

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What’s the last new thing you tried?

I wrote about the overall experience on Sunday a couple of weeks ago, after I had gone to see Free Guy at a Regal Cinema that had just opened in a still under-development mixed-use complex under construction not far from me.

Now, I’ve seen lots of movies in theaters, and in various iterations of 3D, but the totally new part of this experience was seeing a movie in 3D with 4DX technology

Yes, I’ve been on motion capture rides before. Star Tours at Disneyland and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal, the latter having been in 3D for a few months until too many lightweights were having issues with motion sickness. (I was fortunate enough to catch it during its preview week — a perc of being a local — so experienced it 3D and all.)

Universal City Walk also used to have a small motion-control theater that showed very short films — maybe twenty minutes max — designed around the technology.

So, what is the technology? Basically, the seats your sitting in are designed to move with a lot of degrees of freedom. On the Harry Potter ride, you’re basically dangling from a moving crane that can raise, lower, tilt, and turn the bench you’re strapped into. You can’t see it because the ride is normally dark and the assembly is above and behind you.

In the case of Star Tours, as well as the motion control theater and the Universal attraction that started out as Back to the Future to ultimately become The Simpsons, you don’t actually move through a ride building. Instead, the mini-theater you’re sitting in, which generally as four rows, is designed to move via hydraulics to simulate the motions you see on screen.

4DX in a movie theater is similar to this, except that it operates on a single bank of four seats at a time, which can twist, turn, tilt, vibrate, blow air or mist past you and even tickle selective parts of your anatomy.

The big difference, of course, is that I experienced this for the entire runtime of a feature film, not just the duration of a dark ride or short-subject cinema. I supposed you have to pick the right film, but it certainly worked with Free Guy.

One thing I did notice, though. They showed a couple of trailers that used the technology, as well as a promo for 4DX itself — the latter most likely a latter-day This Is Cinerama created to get the audience used to experiencing the tech, although in under five minutes instead of an hour and fifty-five.

Also note that there were no existing Cinerama theaters at the time — the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles wouldn’t open until late 1963, while This Is Cinerama premiered in New York in late 1952 and in L.A. in early 1953. In order to show it, one theater in each city was selected to be temporarily fitted with a three-projector system in order to show the 2.65:1 aspect ratio movie.

But what I did notice with the trailers was this: Since they were for action/superhero films and were cut to highlight that, each trailer was nothing but non-stop 4DX effects, and that got tiring fast. In the feature film, during quiet, talky scenes, the seats calmed down. At the most, they might gently rock back and forth if the actors were talking and walking.

Anyway, I can get used to this.

What do you think of standardized tests?

There’s exactly one thing that standardized tests are good for. Well, okay, two.

Number one: They measure how good you are at taking a standardized test, which is a huge problem, because if all you’ve learned how to do is take a standardized test, then you haven’t really learned anything about the subject.

Number two: They perpetuate institutionalized racism and inherent classism in that they are designed by and for the elites in society — so if you’re a POC, a recent immigrant or first-generation child of immigrants, or from an economically disadvantaged class, you’re going to have a lot harder time with a standardized test.

Well, at least as long as that “standard” is “affluent white kids.” Then again, that was their entire purpose in the first place when these tests designed to winnow down the pool of college-bounds kids was created nearly a century ago — they were absolutely intended as passive gatekeepers to keep POC out.

By the way, IQ tests arose about the same time, and for similar reasons. Due to a recent, huge influx of immigrants to America, certain factions had a vested interest in proving that White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) were the superior intellects, and therefore the “Great White Hope” meant to save the not-quite-so white people from themselves.

At the time, “not-quite-so white” not only included people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and any indigenous group, but it also covered a lot of Europeans, like the Irish, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Scandinavians, Slavs, people from the Balkans, and Jews whether they were Sephardic or Ashkenazi. Catholics also need not apply.

A huge notable exception to this? The Germans, who put the “Saxon” in Anglo-Saxon and put the still ruling British House of Monarchs on the throne way back at the time of George I, great-grandfather of George III, famous for going mad and letting the colonies escape.

Germany double-down on the British monarch thing with Queen Victoria, and the current Royals, the Windsors, are as German as you can get, except that they don’t speak the language. Of course, along the way, there was that whole mess with Edward VIII, who abdicated ostensibly so that he could marry a divorced American commoner, but it was more like that he did so because his Nazi sympathies and being all palsy-walsy with Herr Hitler wouldn’t have gone over very well during WW II. He abdicated in 1936, conveniently just before Hitler started getting all belligerent in Europe.

It was less than two years later that Neville Chamberlain rolled over for the Nazis and basically handed them Czechoslovakia and, later, Poland.

So that’s what I think of standardized tests.

What’s your best example of easy come, easy go?

Lottery tickets. Sure, I do play, but I limit it to about $10 a week — two entries in the Super Lotto on Wednesday and Saturday, and the daily Fantasy 5 drawing, bought in blocks of three draws in advance.

Occasionally, I will buy a $1 or $2 scratcher, but that’s it.

I’ve participated in probably two office pools when one of the jackpots got ridiculously huge and we all kicked in enough money to buy several hundred dollars-worth of tickets. End results? After all of the winnings were tallied and calculated evenly, I think that the biggest return any of us ever saw was about $1.25 based on a contribution of $10.

In other words, a loss. But that’s how games of chance work — they always favor the house.

I live about a city block away from a liquor store that has become something of a Lottery mecca. In fact, I don’t think they make most of their income by selling liquor or cigarettes or any of the basic bodega groceries and whatnot in stock.

It’s a small store, but it has six full-size lottery scratcher and ticket machines, a café table and some chairs for gamers, and a dedicated LCD screen to display the constantly ongoing Keno games and Pick 3, or whatever the other multiple times a day game there is.

Like I said, I spend very little on only two games because I know that the odds of winning are astronomical. But when I go into that liquor store, I see the saddest example of “easy come, easy go” that there is. Somebody might buy a $20 scratcher and actually win just under a hundred bucks with it — a C-note being the max that a retailer can pay out in cash.

So, what do they do? If they were smart, they’d take the money and run, but they aren’t. They will immediately buy more scratchers, and then proceed to win… nothing. I’ve seen it a bunch of times going in and out of the place — forlorn looking people scratching off the last in a stack of tickets, faces falling as they win not a cent.

If I’m lucky, they’ll just toss those tickets on the ground or in the cardboard box in front of the store, and I’ll scoop them up on my way out. Hey, every one of them is worth an entry in the weekly Second Chance Drawing, so if they’re just going to throw potential money away, I’m quite willing to take it.

What are three occupations that machines will soon replace?

Note that I’m not saying it like these are good things. They are actually very bad things, but then again, if I’d lived just over a century ago, I might have lamented the fact that automobiles were going to put horses out of jobs.

I would never have bothered to ask the horse, though.

Anyway, what three occupations are in the most danger? Let me start with the ones that are not.

I’ve seen a lot of ads lately on social media trying to hype AI designed to do voiceover acting, copywriting, and creating art. And in no way whatsoever is AI ready to take any of this over from humans.

Okay, I’ll admit that I do use an AI voice for my weekly podcast, which is based on this blog, but that’s only because I don’t have the time or resources to hire a voiceover performer or do it all myself. I do record the intros to each episode and any necessary interstitial narration, and then do all of the editing and post production.

But here’s the thing: While the AI voice is quite capable of reading a blog post, it still has its unavoidable glitches that make it decidedly not human. These range from really funky cadences in the reading that I will have to edit gaps from to strange pronunciations or inflections — for example, always pronouncing words like read or lead as past-tense verbs instead of present tense.

As for art, just plain no. AI can only futz around by taking a bunch of pictures and spitting out patterns, but there’s not mind or meaning behind it. And, finally, when it comes to copywriting — with this heinous entry aimed at marketing execs more interested in saving money than actually, well, you know, creating effective marketing — every last example of AI written copy I’ve ever seen is pure and boring shit.

Of course, this is the particular app that hits really close to home for me, because it’s the one that would love to put me out of a job. Fortunately, it’s not going to do that any time soon.

But here are the three jobs at the biggest risk of being automated away — and why we need to prepare to supply a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to anybody automated out of a job. Actually, it’s two-fold: UBI plus re-education benefits in the form of a full-ride scholarship to learn a trade that hasn’t been automated out of existence.

So who are the most vulnerable right now?

I’ll start with the obvious: Checkers. Whether they work in grocery stores, big box retail, or even smaller outlets, the powers that be are trying to force customers into the self-check lanes. Now, I wouldn’t object to this if I got a discount for my time spent doing other people’s work. But I do resent it when only one or two human-operated check stands are open and, in these days of COVID, the lines stretch down the aisles.

You know what? I’d rather go with a human checker any day. Why? The conversation is better, they do it much faster and more efficiently than I ever could and, considering that I’ve been going to the same grocery store for over thirteen years and my parents went to the same (but different one) the entire time I was growing up, people wind up forming relationships with their regular checkers.

When I was a kid, my parents were on a first-name basis with our regular checker (Donna), the liquor department guy (Don), and the butcher, whose name I don’t remember. That was a Vons about a mile from home. Now, I go to a Ralph’s about a mile from home, but I’ve gotten to know a couple of the checkers in a professional way and am now on a nodding basis with the regular guard skulking behind the sticky-fingers scanner at the entrance.

Occupation number two will probably be ride-share drivers, at least if Bond Villain Elon Musk has his way and figures out how to stop killing people. Amazon may also have a hand in this if it moves to driverless delivery trucks.

Especially given that the California Supreme Court just overturned (and rightly) the so-called “gig workers’ initiative” which was sponsored by major ride-share companies and basically turned said workers into low-paid serfs, these corporate a-holes are going to look for ways to get rid of human drivers entirely.

Not that things are exactly going smoothly for Elon and his self-driving cars right now, but someone is going to fill in the slack.

Occupation number three: Cue the autonomous robots, and warehouse workers are going to become a thing of the past, at least in giant warehouses that ship a lot of different things in great volume every day.

Or, in other words, Amazon.

This one actually kind of makes sense because the job is way too mindless for humans — Amazon’s employee turnover per year is ridiculous. But robots that can follow painted markings on the floor, scan and match QR codes, pull and package products, and so much more.

They also never need bathroom breaks, aren’t going to want to unionize, and won’t quit due to stress. And, if they break down, they won’t require expensive healthcare; rather, send in the in-house (and still quite human) mechanics, or just order a replacement.

Out of all of these, I really don’t want to see checkers and cashiers go, and I’d much prefer that ride-share companies go tits up and we bring back union taxi drivers with predictable rates and fair pay for the drivers. As for the warehouse workers (and, for that matter, Amazon delivery drivers) they are just being abused for Jeff Bezos’ benefit, and a lot of the ones that actually work in Amazon’s hub city can’t actually afford to live there.

So, if they get automated out of a job then give them a UBI that covers more than the cost of living in whatever overpriced city they’re in, give them a full-ride scholarship to whatever college or trade school they want to go in order to learn a new profession, and remind them that they are free of ever being a serf again for a greedy billionaire who doesn’t know the meaning of the word empathy.

Now there’s an occupation I would love to see eliminated altogether: Greedy billionaire. And managing that is simple. Tax the hell out of them, the way we did in the 1950s, under a Republican president, Eisenhower, when the top marginal tax rate was above 90% and it kicked in above an income level of $200,000.

This was the equivalent of around $2,000,000 in current dollars when Eisenhower took office, but by the time he left, it was below $1,800,000. Or, in other words, deflation had increased buying power by 10% in eight years.

Now imagine that one. Somebody makes a billion dollars, and we tax everything above two million at 91%. This means that they pay that rate on $ 998,000,000, or $ 908,180,000.

This leaves them with “only” $ 89,820,000 on top of their two million.

Or, guess what? Let’s give them the same deal Eisenhower gave the super-wealthy back then. If you put that money into employee salaries and benefits, capital development, charitable work in the community (particularly arts and education) or otherwise spend it in ways that benefit everyone and not you or your shareholders, then you get a tax break.

Or you can just send the government a fat check, and we’ll figure out how to spend it.

Kind of a no-brainer, really.

Next up: How to figure out how to replace elected officials with AI, who would most likely be much better and less stupid at it.

Sunday Nibble #75: A little bit free

The last time I went to a movie theater was in February, 2020. I don’t remember the exact date. Just that the movie was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the Pacific Theaters in Sherman Oaks, right across from the Best Buy.

I think it was a 4:30 show on a weekday — I want to say Thursday, and pretty late in the run of the film, so there were all of three of us in the theatre, which was fine with me. I sat in the front row of the balcony — perfect seats — and enjoyed the show.

Not long after on March 9, 2020, my improv company, ComedySportz L.A., shut down temporarily, although they still really haven’t started back up. Less than two weeks after that, Los Angeles and the rest of California shut down and everything changed, but I don’t think I have to recap that history here.

I year and a half later, I’m fully vaccinated and have been since late May, and things had just opened up at the beginning of July when they came to a screeching halt again two weeks later thanks to the Delta variant.

I knew more than a few fully vaccinated people who nonetheless got infected and, while their symptoms were mild, they were persistent, plus they still had to quarantine.

Of course, I went to a good friend’s engagement party in the gap between opening and re-closing. I was there for five hours with a huge group of strangers, and we were all unmasked. It’s been long enough that I would know it if I’d been infected by now, but it was one of those “Oh shit” moments when we shut down six days after that event.

So I’m back to being cautious. I skipped returning for the newly resumed summer camp that was the impetus for this entire site in the first place way back in 2017. Despite the requirements for everyone to show proof of vaccination and be tested, and with masks optional if people wanted to wear them, I just couldn’t bring myself to stay for an entire weekend with a bunch of strangers in shared cabins and communal meals.

Likewise, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to my friend’s wedding in October, mainly because it’s so far away, and current thinking puts long distance travel and weddings very high up on the list of high-risk activities, even if you are vaccinated. The wedding is far away.

But there was a new movie opening that I really wanted to see, it was only rolling out on big screens, and then I found this newly opened and very close to home theater and also found that for the first showing, at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night, barely any seats were sold.

It was a Real 3D and 4DX theater, so I picked my seat in a row that I thought was behind the aisle separating the last two rows from the rest of the seating. This was fine, because the seats that had sold were all across the middle of that section.

The only flaw in my plan: Since the seating chart didn’t indicate where the screen was and I’m used to reading plans with the back wall at the top, it turned out that I was actually in the back row of the orchestra, basically, or a lot closer than I had planned for.

No big deal, though. Not really.

The film was Free Guy, a 20th Century Studios release, aka a Disney film. What drew me in was the premise — especially since it was not part of yet another franchise — plus Ryan Reynolds, who is always amusing and appealing. Of course the trailer helped. If you’d like to take a look, here it is:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/cttnRmcr_ME

Having seen the film, it’s really amusing to see how things have been cut up and moved around, so don’t take this as the literal plot. That’s refreshing for a Disney trailer. For once, they don’t just tell you the entire story. I’d seen this trailer and the previous ones from last year before COVID delayed the film’s release, and I was still surprised all the way through.

Full disclosure: I am receiving absolutely nothing for hyping this film so much. I just really, really enjoyed it. Maybe it was all those years of playing Sim City, where the player is sort of the ultimate NPC. (That’s non-playable character for you non-gamer types — all of the background players who are just there, doing their pre-programmed thing.)

As for the overall experience… thanks to the time of day, COVID, and the newness of the entire venue, the place was practically deserted when I arrived, which was fine with me. The parking lot was mostly empty, so I parked right in front of the elevator.

These were marked with signs indicating that maximum occupancy was one group from the same household or one person. Again, just fine with me.

The theater lobby was also deserted and so quiet that I actually wound up in the theater and in what I thought was my seat before I realized that I didn’t have my 3D glasses and hadn’t actually checked in. I went back and found the ticket checker, who was very blasé about it. She scanned my ticket in from my phone and give me my glasses — hermetically sealed in plastic.

Gotta love buying your ticket on your phone, picking your seat, and that’s it. My biggest movie theater anxiety was always getting the tickets and then printing them out and not forgetting them when that was a thing, or making it to the box office in time and standing in line, hoping to get good seats before the show started way back when that was a thing.

I also definitely would never, ever see a film opening weekend. That was just too much of a crapshoot. Not this time, though. I was actually at the first showing on the first day.

So taking my time and doing it all on my phone is just amazing for so many reasons.

This was not my first experience with Real 3D. I definitely saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi that way, and I think I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story in that format as well. I can’t remember what other films, if any, I saw between the two, although I am sensing a theme here. I think I saw the most recent James Bond Film — Spectre — in a theatre, and was that almost six years ago already? Wow.

Or did I watch Spectre online? Yeah, really hard to remember.

But, anyway… I was very impressed by all of my experiences with Real 3D. Bright images, no ghosting, the glasses work with or without eyeglasses under them, and the film doesn’t look muddy or blurred without them.

This was my first time at the rodeo with 4DX, which is an apt description, but I actually really like it. The very short version is that the technology turns each block of four seats into its own mini motion-control ride synced up to behave in coordination with the movie, and it adds an entirely new level to everything.

The seats can simulate just about any motion, and they are also capable of blasting warm air past your ears, blowing mist in your face, or tickling your legs. Apparently, it can also simulate rain, storms, rushing winds and other such phenomena — although we didn’t get anything quite that extreme in Free Guy.

All in all, it made for a nice, safe break from being basically locked in for most of eighteen months other than grocery shopping, and it was nice. If you’re vaccinated, don’t live in a state with a crazy governor, and have a movie theater near you that practices social distancing and requires masks, give it a shot.

I know the whole experience made me feel a whole lot better. Give it a try.

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